Roy Sawh

Roy Sawh was born on a sugar estate in Guyana (then British Guiana), “the next thing to slavery,” which galvanized his fight against racism and injustice. His Indian-born father was indentured to the plantation at the age of six; Roy and his siblings worked there too. He worked at the Cumberland Hotel in Marble Arch, and in 1958, he stumbled on Speakers’ Corner by chance. He was fascinated by the Coloured Workers’ Welfare Association, and the next Sunday, he asked to speak on their platform. He was greeted with “go home you bastard, Ghana is independent.” Undeterred, Roy spoke about racism, immigration and the history of the British Empire for the next 30 years. Roy actively sought dialogue and appreciated hecklers for their humour value. In 1968, he was sentenced to twelve months in prison after police and magistrates interpreted jocular speeches as “inciting violence” under the 1965 Racial Discrimination Act, which was intended to protect minorities. Roy also describes his time in the Communist Party, studying philosophy in Moscow, two stints in the Guyanese government, setting up the Free University for Black Studies in London, and his Hindu mother’s belief in the value of education.

Audio of Roy

“I can’t stand injustice”